In today’s world, there are few business that aren’t driven by technology, and built upon information technology specifically. Even the most “off-line” of businesses will have an email address and an accounting system. Unfortunately, even for large business, their technology foundation is often an afterthought. It’s so easy nowadays to cobble together the pieces to make a business functional – a little Microsoft Office here, a free webservice there, and you’re up and running. And for many small business, that’s all they ever need. Even larger business, who focus on complex analysis, will often be satisfied with Excel – it’s powerful enough, that few analysts realize what they are missing.
But grow enough, and your information infrastructure becomes critical. Ask yourself this simple question – “Could my business operate more than a few hours without email? How about the file server? How about my accounting files?”
If you can’t answer Yes to all of those, then you need someone who’s job it is to think about your technology needs, how they support your business goals, and how you can maintain and grow your information systems as your business grows. Your line business folks often do this. A good parallel is your accounting: get to a certain size, and you hire an bookkeeper/accountant. Keep growing, and you need a CFO. The same logic applies to your information systems. Get to a certain size, and you hire an “IT Guy.” He (and it’s usually a “he”) has great IT skills. But if you need a new inventory management system, for instance, he’s usually not the guy to do the needs analysis, contact vendors, build the budget and manage the project. That’s when you need someone with more of those soft, business-focused skills, but who still understands the technology intimately. You need a Chief Information Officer (CIO).
We talk about many things in a business as the “foundation.” But your information infrastructure is much more like the plumbing. You don’t want to think about it, you barely see it, but when you turn on the water, you want it there. When you flush, you just want it to work. There are plenty of businesses making do with a garden hose and a port-a-potty installed by the neighborhood handyman. There comes a time when you want to move the plumbing indoors – and in the walls. For that you need a real plumber.
Are You Thinking about These Things?
You lock the front door. You hire a security guard (or your building does). How are you securing your information technology? Every internet-connected computer is an open door into the heart of your business, manned by only one employee. Click on one bad link, and without some “defense in depth,” some hacker in a faraway land has the keys to everything you do and own. Are you familiar with those tools? Do you keep them up-to-date?
You think all of the time about where your business is going. What are your products and channels to your customers? What are our revenue streams? etc.
But when is the last time you though about your website capacity? Or your inventory system’s ability to keep up with those growth plans? Or your network’s ability to handle four new offices?
There are always new technologies coming along that make everything cheaper. When’s that breakeven point come where the money saved overcomes the cost of switching? Get big enough, and you need a professional watching the technology part of this – it moves faster than any other part of your business.
Stuff happens. Water main breaks cut off your office, fires at the data center, hurricanes, etc. What are you doing to make sure that you can continue to operate your business? Business interruption insurance is part of it, but that only pays out if you have a property claim – and it pays much later. Wouldn’t you like to keep operating? In today’s world, that means making sure your information systems can support operating from alternate locations. Can they?
If you’re not thinking about these things all the time, but you’re big enough for them to seriously impact your bottom line, you need a CIO.